American Violet


The movie American Violet opens next month, and is based on the real-life experience of Regina Kelly, a waitress wrongly arrested and charged during a disastrous drug sweep in Hearne, Texas back in 2000. Kelly was one of 28 people arrested. Her refusal to accept a plea bargain eventually helped expose that District Attorney John Paschall case for the massive sweep was a sham, based almost entirely on the word of a pathological informant (who also claims he was beaten by police). Paschall promised his informant he'd drop the theft charges pending against him if the informant could produce information that would lead to 20 drug arrests.

Even after his case fell apart and Paschall had no choice to drop the charges against those who hadn't alread plead guilty, he refused to exonerate anyone, telling the New York Times that of those charged, "I don't doubt one minute their guilt in dealing drugs." Paschall is still district attorney, and he's not particularly happy about the movie. He told the Dallas Morning News, "The only way I'd watch it, I'd have to be handcuffed, tied to a chair and you'd have to tape my eyes open."

Like the series of wrongful drug arrests in Tulia, Texas, the Hearne scandal was largely attributable to the federal Byrne Grant program, which not only creates the unaccountable, multi-jurisdictional drug task forces like those responsible for Hearne and Tulia, but then also sets artificial, improper incentives by tying future funding to the number of arrests and drug seizures a task force makes. Oddly enough, the Bush administration actually phased out Byrne Grants. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are bringing them back.

I interviewed Regina Kelly a couple of years ago at an ACLU conference: